Category Archives: ATF

Solemnly Swear

I solemnly swear that I will get back into blogging and reporting on the daily adventures that is my weird, strange, and exciting life as a high school teacher and young adult in Mississippi. 

Where to begin? School has been in session for a month. It’s manageable. It’s fun. It’s frustrating. 

For one month, I have dreamt about lessons and students and tests. For one month I have been excited to get ready every morning and go to work because I like what I am doing. For a solid month I have not once dreaded or wish that I did not have to drive 15 miles and work for sometimes 13 straight hours in uncomfortable shoes. I love my kids. They crack me up. They make me proud. They piss me off. They completely amazing me with their emotional and academic intelligence. 

One day, I threw my dry erase marker clear across the classroom. Clashing against an unfinished bulletin board and plummeting to the board, the marker silenced every voice and focused every eyes on me. “Scream out an answer to me one more time without thinking it through and SEE WHAT HAPPENS!” my voice was calm and probably 20 decibels lower than my usual “teacher voice” but I spoke with urgency and seriousness. 

I’m not proud of that moment, but you better believe they haven’t told me that 1,800- 0 is 0 ever since. 

I’m aware that I am not a good teacher. I’m a first year freaking teacher. No shit I’m not God’s gift to children. I don’t expect to be. I’m trying my darn hardest and I’m doing the best I can. I think the realist in me is one of the only things keeping me afloat and happy. 

All my friends that are on the verge of having a mental breakdown, Pierce who dry heaved in a parking lot before school because he has so much anxiety associated with failing kids, Kenzie, who came into my classroom after school, closed the door and broke down into tears about picking up a note a kid was writing to the guidance counselor asking to be switched out of her class; they all are expecting perfection of themselves and perfection of their children. 

The kid wants to switch out because you are actually making kids learn and think! You cannot take things personally. 

Good thing I’m an island. Makes teaching not easy but, manageable. 

 

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Humbleness and Hysteria

Today marks the first day of “Kickoff”, where ATF org members reunite to focus on what we will be doing and who we will be as teachers in our actual placement schools. 

Today, we did a lot of reflection. 

During said reflection, some of the experiences of the summer actually fell into place and began (mind you only began) to take place. 

Most of these reflections on myself as a teacher were extremely humbling because, well, I realized how much I actually sucked. Really, really, actually, positively sucked. 

One example of suckage that particularly stands out is the story of Robert. 


Robert was a student in my summer school class. I noticed a few days into school that all of the students called him Red. Everyone in the gym in the mornings called him Red. 

Awesome, Robert has a nickname, I beamed to myself, praising myself for my observations. I’m going to call him by his nickname! I will show Robert how much he means to me, that I pay attention, I observe, I know about him and who he is. Look at me! Building relationship! I tooted my own horn so loud and proud, I even ran off and “enlightened” my teaching quad about his nickname. 

The next day, I started referring to him as Red. 
“How’d you know my name’s Red, miss?!” he exclaimed, clearly surprised. I’m just that awesome. Go me. Yay Ms. Wildes! 

A few more days go by and all of a sudden, it’s community night and what do you know?! Robert’s mom came. During our conversation, I referred to Robert as Red blatantly and intentionally. See ma’am, I know your son! I even know his nickname. I care. 

Flabbergasted, she looked my right in the eyes, “Oh lord, y’all calling him Red now too?” 

“They’ve been calling him Red ever since he was in the elementary school. The kids picked on him because he’s light skinned and his hair has that reddish color to it,” Ms. Robert’s mom began slowly, and softly. “I told him everyday when he came home crying, ‘You are not white! You are a black boy, don’t let those kids tell you any different just because your skin has less pigmentation than theirs?’ And so, for years, they’ve called him Red and I guess it’s just stuck”. 

Shit fuck fuckerface fuck. 

This name, this “nickname” that I “so kindly” called him because I was “building relationships” is something that originated from bullying and is something that was terrible for my student. I didn’t build a fucking relationship by mimicking the teasing of his peers, I potentially demolished a relationship. I didn’t seek to understand where his nickname came from, I just thought I was great for observing it. 

And the worst part, I never asked Robert how he felt about being called Red. 

The next day in class, I switched back to calling him Robert to “fix” my screw up. “Miss, why are you all of a sudden calling me Robert again?!” he protested, confused and probably frustrated. 

Cue the moment where I should have had a discussion with him about where his nickname came from and how that makes him feel. Instead, this is what happened. 

“Well, which name do you want to be called?” I inquired, curious and nervous all at once.

“Red”

Well ok… 

And the rest of the summer, I called that poor kid Red. 


In the middle of my multi-cultural, multi-ethnic affinity group, the horridness of my own actions and choices hit me in the face as hard a cement block. Balls. I fucking suck. 

And it was apparent. 

 

The Data Doesn’t Tell The Whole Story

Data. 

A four letter word that carries a lot of weight. 

A summer’s worth of knowledge, learning, and self-worth mashed together and accumulated into tiny numbers in massive excel spreadsheets. 

My teaching quad has received some extra attention this summer because of our exceptionally low amount of student growth; our bad data

“What do you think students will say about themselves and about how confident they feel in math when walking into their math classes in the fall?” the ATF staff who works as the school manager inquired. It was far too late at night to be having this conversation, but it was essential. I didn’t think our data was that low, I pondered in my own thoughts. 

I didn’t know our data was this horrid, my kids definitely don’t know it either. 

“Cocky,” I spat my opinion before anyone else in my teaching quad could take a breathe. 

“Because they don’t know they are the lowest in terms of our ‘summer growth goal’. I didn’t know we were the lowest. They think they are awesome, amazing, hard working, and incredible because one, they are and because two, we tell them everyday,” I was met with a blank stare. 

“So I think they are going to go into their fall math classes cocky and I think even the quiet ones will be showing the whole class how to do stuff and raising their hands because they will leave our class confident”. 

The data is bad not because of a lack of effort. The data is bad because the content is challenging, we have students with IEPs that we cannot legally receive any information about because we are not yet certified, and because we are brand new, first-year teachers who honestly have improved vastly in three weeks yet still have a lot to learn. 

I’m not ok with having bad data. My teaching quad and myself are working our asses off to enable our kids succeed. But I do know that our bad data does not tell the stories of our kids. It does not tell the story of Tamara, who came in with a lack of basic math skills like adding fractions and negative numbers. It does not tell the story of Douglas, who fights through his ADHD as he stands at a podium in the corner of a room in an attempt to stay focused through 4 hours straight of Algebra a day. It doesn’t tell the story of Montoya, who wrote Buddy (one of the teachers in my quad) a letter about her suicide attempt in the 5th grade and the relentless bullying she faces every day when she walks into school. It doesn’t tell the story of John who wrote nothing down for the first two weeks, turned in every quiz blank, and who now, at the end of the third week, has some of the highest marks on my quizzes. 

Data doesn’t tell the whole story, but I still see its importance. I have to do better by my students so that they can tell at least a portion of their story through the data. 

Like I say every day in class, “If you believe in yourself half as much as I believe in you, you will change the world”. And I know they will. Even if they didn’t “grow” this summer. They still will. 

Did I just say “Our”?

A lot has been happening in the last month. 

And I mean a lot. 

But the other day, something exceptionally monumental occurred. It happened on a Tuesday. 

Kacey, a member of my teaching quad and I were walking from the Union (the place on campus where a lot of people write their lessons plans from around 7:00 pm until 1 in the morning) to the dining hall and talking about the general experience of a ATF org member. 

Fun. Exhausting. Eye opening. Hellish. Inspirational. Bonding. 

There’s so many ways to describe the experiences we have been collecting this summer. I’m not exactly sure how it came about, but we also starting talking about the experiences that other org members have had at their summer training in different parts of the nation. Their stories and experiences just didn’t seem as deeply impactful as our has been. 

“It would be so very different to not be in a rural area and to go through all of this in say, New York City,” I contributed. “But the people there probably wouldn’t enjoy the Delta, they might just not understand our community here”. 

I stopped. Dead in my tracks. 

That just kinda poured out and honestly, I was kind of worried I had just insulted Kacey seeing as though she is from the Delta herself and I literally just got here like, yesterday. 

“Look at me,” I broke the silence, “saying ‘our’ and all like I’ve been here forever” I added shyly. 

“You are from here now!” Kacey belted with joy and she gave be a loving pat on my shoulder. 

And y’all, she’s right. I consider myself a part of this community now and I love it! I want to be from here. I want to be a proud Mississippian. I want to love the Delta and love my students and love running into them and their families at the grocery store and love on a place that is so full of love already. 

I think I’m well on my way. 

Fairly Certain They Just Might Change the World

Confession: I have the best teaching quad and Org. Member Advisor (OMA).

Between the four of us, we (attempt to) teach 18 high school students Algebra I. Each and every one of the other teachers in my quad are the most amazing, sincere, humble, and inspirational human beings. I’m fairly certain that they just might change the world.

And my OMA, don’t even get me started! This man is insightful, caring, warm hearted, and damn good at what he does. I am so thankful. His name is Aaron and I adore him. I’ll never stop learning from him, he’s that kind of great.

Because all I have heard so far is horror stories.

Teaching quads getting into fights. Teaching quads hating each other. Teaching quads with know-it-alls. Teaching quads with lazy slackers. OMAs that undermine the whole ATF experience. OMAs that are harsh and unsupportive. OMAs that aren’t very accessible or available.

My quad however, is golden. I have Catherine, a South Louisiana corp member and a bad ass from New York City. Buddy, another bad ass from Biloxi, Mississippi. And finally, there is Kacey. Sorry quad, but Kacey is the most bad ass and I adore her. She is from the Delta. She’s back to teach and she is damn, damn, DAMN good at what she does. I learn from all three of them every day. We get along. We are real friends. And I really respect them.

Every morning, Buddy and I eat our breakfast together in the dining hall before the other org members that teach at our school get there. We both don’t like to feel late. Every morning, Buddy plays gospel music on his iPhone for us as we eat and preaches nothing but positivity. It’s our special time and it starts me off feeling like I can, we can, do anything.

It’s exhausting, don’t get me wrong. But I am so invested. We have jokingly named ourselves Team Aaron and Team Aaron is so invested. I don’t sleep a lot. I don’t blog a lot. I write a lot of lesson plans that I don’t exactly use because you cannot plan for the exact direction the kids will guide your class. But I don’t mind all the stress and late nights.

Because so far, I’m having the time of my life.

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And then, it Happened.

I just finished my first week in the classroom as an ATF teacher. In the midst of the ups and downs of the roller coaster that has been my first week as a teacher, I discovered something: I love this. 

I love teacher jokes and #teacherprobz, I love planning a lesson, I love leading a classroom, I love learning, and most importantly, I love these my kids. 

Yes, one week in and I’m already claiming them as my own. Because I can and because I see the smallest part of myself in every single one of them.

Especially Douglas.

Douglas, by most descriptions, would be classified as “a little shit”. He’s hyperactive, he distracts on tasks students, he talks back. He’s me. I am Douglas. We come from different worlds, but we are one in the same. He’s smart too. So smart that he’s bored.

It only took three days before he reached the 4th consequence in my 50 minute lesson that I instruct daily: a phone call home. The numbers he provided on his student survey were fake, so I went digging through registration records and found his mom’s phone number. Haha! Nothing gets past me, Douglas! I snickered.

Like the nervous little first year teacher that I am, I consulted two mentors and constructed a full length script before I dialed the number. Once in touch with his sweet mama, she informed me of his ADHD and I asked for what has worked for him in the past and some insights since she is, after all, an expert on her son.

“Keep him busy,” she instructed. “Keep him challenged”.

I can do that.

He’s the sweetest too. Each time he’s getting out of hand (which only takes about 30 minutes into my lessons), we have a little chat in my most forced and practiced “relationship building voice” and, like magic, he turns himself around.

He would never tell me or show me, but another teacher in my teaching quad (a group of 4 teachers that work together over the summer) told me that he loves me and that I’m the only one that has gotten successful work out of him yet this week.

This, was the ultimate win. 

Obviously, I still have a ton of work to do and a ton of growing. This week, I have repeatedly failed my students. But I can only get better and I can’t wait to work hard and pour more of my sweat, blood, and tears into this jobs and these kids. Because this is what I’m suppose to do, and I know that because I love it.

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Surprise, I’m Flawed.

 

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Last night, the first person left ATF.

She wrote a note. Packed her bags. Left some donations of her things in the lobby and she went home.

Yesterday evening, I was also pulled aside and told about the discovery of my blog. This blog. The Chronicles of the Chronically Confused. By ATF staff members. Hyperventilating, I blinked back hot tears and choked for air as I apologized for quoting my favorite staff, Kanisha as using the word “dem” instead of “them”. Surprise, I’m flawed. Really fucking flawed.

She explained she wasn’t offended, she wasn’t hurt, but that I should be aware. Thank you, Kanisha for your insight! I removed that whole portion of my stories from my previous post, just to be sure. As a writer, my intention was to paint a picture, not to offend. I’ve quoted my own mother’s accent phonetically in a previous posts. I made her southern drawl audible through how I scripted my language. But I can understand that it could be offensive. That’s why I removed it. 

But you know what, you have to be really digging to discover and focus in on one, three letter word. 

My life is wildly offensive. Do you know how many times I have dropped the f-bomb in here? To be clear, that won’t be changing. 

Lesson learned. Point taken. Understood. Won’t happen again. In the words of Kanisha as she addressed a group today, “you have not arrived”.

But you better believe I am going to keep blogging and doing so honestly right here on my personal blog.

This is not an ATF blog. This is a blog of my crazy, weird, extremely private life. ATF is just part of it. Keep reading if you want, my space will not be violated by prying eyes.

Instruction begins tomorrow and the crazy weirdness is about to begin. 

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“Putting yourself first is putting your kids first”

Today, I discovered that I fundamentally disagree with an aspect of our “Induction Norms”.

Scratch that, I disagree with several aspects.

During Induction, we were given three “norms”. Key word–given. We did not create them as a group. We did not discuss them as a region. Three norms were put in front of us and it was established that “this is the way it is and the way it will be”.

That is the first thing that I did not like.

The three norms are as follows:

  1. Put the kids first.
  2. Commit to dialogue
  3. Be leaders and learners

The second, and fundamentally jarring aspect that I can not see eye-to-eye with is norm #1. 

Ya, ya. Sounds selfish right? Well guess what… You’re right. It’s selfish and that is exactly my point. I strongly believe that in order to put your kids first, you must first take care of yourself. Not once have we discussed wellness and self-care at Induction thus far. Granted, it’s only day two. But still. The very first norm screamed at us to be totally selfless and sacrifice time, energy, sleep, and our own well-being to “put the kids first”. AND I’M FEELING BAD ABOUT IT! I’m feeling guilty for questioning it because its our “norm”.

I expressed this during a small group sessions and a beautifully insightful girl, Elizabeth, put it into a context that changed my perception.

“You see though, putting yourself first is putting your kids first”

But still, I want someone on staff to say that to us! I want someone to articulate the importance of our health and well-being, because today I have seen four people cry. It’s day two and people are having little breakdowns left and right and no one is talking about wellness yet. People are talking about alcohol and drinking a bottle of wine last night to unwind but no one is talking about wellness.

I want to re-write Norm Number One to read put yourself first so that you can put your kids first. 

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The Limo

Induction Day 2 and I have experienced my first “challenge”.

Today, we boarded school buses for community visits. I, naturally, decided to pee just one more time because the 1.5 hour bus ride was pretty daunting and was one of the very last people to board the bus.

Stepping onto the hot, narrow, yellow school bus I was overwhelmed with a sense of nostalgia for the awkward phases of junior high school and the hot, sticky smell of the pleather seats. There were very few seats and the first one I saw available, I politely asked if it was taken.

Reluctantly, the man I spoke to with the ruddy beard mumbled something inaudible and moved his embarrassingly dumb looking school issued lunch box, which we all carry, out of the way. First thing he says to me as I took my seat caught me slightly off guard.

“So. Do you like to party?” 

“Um, well, ya I like to go out here and there, I guess” I stuttered, caught off guard by his blunt curiosity. Maybe ask my name first? Anything but just straight into that, but whatever. We then proceeded to dive into an interestingly odd conversation.

“I ask because I met a really cool local dude at this bar last night,” he began “and he is, well he is really well known and respected in the community. He owns businesses and everyone knows him type thing. Anyways, he really cool and really rich and he is getting a limo to take him to another sweet ass bar out in this cotton field for tonight and he invited me to come with, do you want to join us?”.

Dumbfounded, I honestly wondered if this dude was joking. Is this a prank? Am I being set up? Because there is NO way, after the endless 16 hour days and tireless conversations about the perceptions of ATF teachers that he just said that to me! 

“No, I definitely do not want to join you in a limo,” I spat the words in annoyance. Take a step back… Think about how to phrase this, Sara! My inner dialogue was running, no! It was sprinting!

“Have you thought about how that might be perceived? A white male, new in town, new to the community, and obviously ATF, showing up to a local bar in a limo?” I pried. “Well, I’d be with ya know, this famous and respected local man,” he retorted. “So everyone will know I’m with him”.

Well,” I dove in again. “Have you considered that you are brand new to this community and don’t really know anything about it quiet yet. How do you know this man’s reputation or who he is or claims to be in the community?” the words flowed out of my mouth with audible urgency, but with careful consideration to really attempt to make him think about the potential implications. 

Again, he retorted. “Well this man owns a lot of businesses and is clearly well liked”. But I could not simply leave it alone. Mind you, this bus ride was 1.5 hours and I spent a good half of that time probing with questions to make him consider things that he clearly had not yet needed to consider. Things that I would not have considered or understood myself until I did a pre-induction induction.

  • Have you thought about what it will be like to be a teacher, let alone a ATF teacher in a small town where people see you and talk about what you do on the weekends and after school?
  • Have you thought about the bar you are going to? Who owns it? Are they well liked? Is it a culturally white-only environment?
  • How would your students and their parents feel if they knew about who and where you hang out?
  • Have you though about anything?!

Every question was countered with a blatantly naive rationalization. This man, and I say man because he graduated EIGHT years ago, is not yet on a level to consider these aspects of our new lives critically.

I haven’t fully yet either. I am not perfect. But these questions should stir something within you and make you consider the world and the context of yourself within the world and this was just not happening today. Eventually, I immersed myself into the latest Buzzfeed listographies and ignored him completely. I was done. I wrote him off.

And that’s not any better!

But, I can say that everyone operates on their own calibers and levels and reach different “ah-ha” moments at different times. I just came to this particular moment before this dude did.

But I’m still #annoyed.

More posts to come, XOXO,

Sara Wildes

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Induction Day 1-Screwing Up and Loving It

It’s only day one, and I’m already fucking up.

During the second half of the hellacious day that was today, we went to our small group time with our affinity group. 

Affinity groups are suppose to be divided by the race that you identify. White people groups, black people groups, LGBTQ groups, API groups, Hispanic/Latino(a) groups. I understood this fact after about 10 minutes in my affinity group. Because, let me tell you how I royally fucked this one up. 

I guess, somewhere in the process of filling out the dozens of surveys for TFA before arriving at Induction, I decided that I was either

  1. over it
  2. tired of being asked or
  3. a smart ass

because I’m fairly certain that for the question What race do you identify as I answered I would rather not say.  As the affinity group began, the staff member introduced it as the Multi-Cultural, Multi-Ethnic group…

Confession: I am white. Like, very white. No rhythm, clumsy, awkward; stereotypical white girl, white.

But here I was, sitting in the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic group and I was the only person that did not identify as bi-racial. When had to go around the circle and introduce ourselves. What’s your name? Where are you from? How did you end up in this group/ how do you identify? 

HAHA, ok! How do I pull this one off? Time to get creative…. Let the brainstorming begin. It actually wasn’t even that hard, I’m quick on my feet. I dove into my story of frequent moves, international schools, diverse friends, and a variety of cultures. “I’m white,” I stated the obvious, obviously… “but I identify as multi-cultural because I am use to differences, I’m accustomed to diversity,” blah blah, I continued on. I have to admit, it sounded pretty damn good.

But still, all the mixed raced individual in the groups stared back at me with their gorgeous, warm hazel eyes. I made up their internal dialogue in my mind. What the hell is this white girl’s story?! This little white girl has got to be lost! 

But everyone was nice enough and it’ll be totally fine. What do white people talk about in their white people affinity groups anyway? Sounds lame. MULTI-CULTURAL/MULTI-ETHNIC FOR THE WIN.

At that my friends, is my awkward, awkward life.

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